If you DVR anthology shows such as Black Mirror and American Horror Story—or treasure your box sets of The Twilight Zone and Tales From the Crypt—you may be the ideal audience for Summer Shorts. Because single stories examining the darker aspects of modern society, wrapped up in an hour or less, are the thing at this festival of one-act plays, returning to 59E59 for a six-pack of the quick and the condensed.
Now in its 11th season, Summer Shorts—produced by J.J. Kandel and Throughline Artists—will feature new works by Neil LaBute, Chris Cragin-Day, Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds, Graham Moore, Melissa Ross, and TV veteran Alan Zweibel. The topics are, as you’d expect, extremely varied: Tennis pros work out their longtime rivalry (Break Point); God intervenes with a cocky obstetrician (Playing God); devotees of Ayn Rand find themselves in an intellectual crisis (Acolyte); a divorced couple reunites over a dog (Jack); newlyweds have their ceremony lambasted (Wedding Bash); and a church debates letting women into the clergy (A Woman).
Is there an art to writing a short play? We asked Ross, who has previously premiered works with Labyrinth Theater Company (Nice Girl) and Manhattan Theatre Club (Of Good Stock). In her latest piece, Jack, a divorced couple must decide what to do about their dog when it has a medical emergency. “The beauty of writing short-form theater is that there is literally no room for excess,” Ross says. “I am a huge overwriter. My first drafts are ridiculously long.” Most playwrights have a bunch of short works in their back pockets, but they face the same challenge as fiction writers: There’s a market for novels, but not so much for short story collections.
Ross explains that in a one-act, you go for the meat: “It’s kind of about writing the scene in the bigger play where the big shift happens—but as the entire play,” she says. “So there is a full life and story surrounding those 20 pages. We just never see it onstage.”
I asked Ross if there are any famous full plays she’d prefer to see radically shortened. “I’d actually love to see scenes in certain plays taken out of context and refashioned into short pieces that could then exist on their own,” she says. “Like the seduction scene between Lady Anne and Richard III has everything needed for a full play nestled into a few short pages. Or Yelena and Sonja’s scene in Uncle Vanya. Even the way that scene ends feels like it could be the end of a play. I’d also love to see Our Town condensed into 20 minutes. It’s already so simple and spare. To pare it down even more could be really wonderful and heartbreaking.”
Who knows? You may see something brief but destined to be a classic at this year’s Summer Shorts. Big things can come in little packages!
Why You Should Go: A mix of seasoned writers and up-and-comers flex their muscles in short form, which means lots of surprises and variety for a summer night.
Summer Shorts 2017
59 East 59th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues), Midtown
Friday, July 21–Saturday, September 2
Pair your night of bite-size plays with some delicious snacks: